Select Pest Control
The other day I was driving along 19th Avenue behind a “Select Pest Control” truck (select meaning superior, no doubt; not the choice of pests) and a book group I once visited came to mind. This was when my book first came out and I was visiting book groups, this one in San Jose, a far drive, and I was more than a little cranky when I finally got there. But pulling up to the house I noticed a tree in the yard which was the same kind of tree that grew in the front yard of a house I once lived in in Berkeley. I don’t know its name, but it sprouted red berries that were hallucinogenic to birds, and in Berkeley every once in a while a bird would have a bad trip and bash itself over and over again against the dining room window trying to get in, not understanding anymore about glass. My friend, a German architect, said, “Perhaps we should move the flowers” (a vase on the dining room table, which you could see from the window).
This house, the book club house, had the same tree with the same red berries. They were spattered and smashed upon the driveway. I wondered if they would fall on my car, too, or if it was parked far enough away. A woman came out and brought me to the kitchen and gave me an individual bottle of Calistoga and a glass with ice. I was early, another factor that made me cranky. But one by one the rest of the women arrived and we moved from the kitchen to the living room and after a while we began to talk about my book.
Usually I began by answering questions, and then I just let the conversation go where it might. Only one woman, though, was really asking any questions, and it felt halting and awkward. Eventually I realized that no one had read my book, or maybe only the one woman had. It was too early to go home. So I began talking in general about writing, my process, and what everyone seems to want to hear about – what is true and what is made up. (Probably I should mention here that I write fiction.) Still, for whatever reason, the awkwardness continued and eventually I found myself taking off my scarf and flapping it until it turned into a dove. This the women liked. Encouraged, I pulled a large coin (not legal tender) from the hostess’s ear, and then I produced a chain which seemed unbreakable, yet I broke it. I performed a few more tricks like this until at last, concentrating hard, I levitated myself off the armchair (not very high, only a few inches) and drew my legs up to sit in the air Indian-style. The book club gasped and clapped as I fell back onto the cushion.
As I left, the hostess thanked me and walked me to the door. When we stepped outside, however, we saw a bird picking the smashed berries off the driveway and eating them. For some reason the sight made us both stop. And now I have two memories, which conflict: one in which the hostess and I watched the bird, and one in which the entire book group came out of the living room to see me off and they watched the bird too, a whole crowd on the porch (really a platform and a couple of steps). The bird was eating in a funny way; I can’t really explain it. And then, sure enough, soon it lifted itself up and flew toward one of the first-floor windows and began to try to fly through it. Over and over it hit the glass and then flew at it again, while the hostess and I (or the hostess, myself, and the rest of the book group) watched in a kind of helpless and guilty stupor. Finally the bird knocked itself out. Literally. It hit the glass and fell in the dirt and did not twitch itself up again.
The hostess walked over to where it lay and looked down at it. “Better call Pest Control,” she said.